His mother looked on proudly, his father was on his way back from the round Britain and Ireland yacht race to join the celebrations, but the smile on 23-year old Sam Matson’s face lit up the whole of an already sunny Plymouth Sound at the end of the first leg of the Figaro Solo Race.
It was his first appearance, so making him, in 12th place, the top ‘rookie’, and he was the top British competitor out of eight taking part, another six of them also rookies.
“Coming into Plymouth has been an unbelievable feeling,” he said between successive fountains of celebratory champagne for the crowding photographers. “I still can’t believe the result.” Also there to cheer him home were fellow-students from Plymouth University, where Matson took a degree in navigation and maritime science. He graduated with first class honours.
“There was nothing I didn’t expect,” he said. “I knew it would be tough and it was tough.” Not as tough as for one of the favourites ahead of the start from Deauville on Sunday, Yann Elies. He was in the lead at Wolf Rock when he was dismasted and is not working flat out to make the start of the next leg to Roscoff on Saturday.
This is one of the top tests for solo sailors in France and three Frenchmen filled the top three places. Alexis Loisin, who won the doublehanded division of the Fastnet Race last year with father Pascal, was first to finish the 484-mile course in 3d 2hr 53min 50 sec, 7min 27sec ahead of Fabien Delahaye and 9min 42sec ahead of third-placed Jeremie Beyou, who has twice won the event before.
Matson was 58min 49sec behind Loisin and already thinking about gearing up for the second of the four legs. “Right now a shower would be nice,” he said, “but I have had no major gear problems and have yet to discover any injuries, but undoubtedly there will be a few bruises. As for the next leg, bring it on.”